I personally don’t happen to care a whoop for bass fishing or bass; in fact I loathe it and them; but I have no quarrel with the queer people who do, only a sort of bewildered pity.

John Voelker
The Haunted Pond
Trout Madness

Your honor, I object. I do so, of course, with the utmost respect. I understand your scorn for this tourist fish that you once cataloged as a member of the lobster family. After your father dumped bass into Blair Pond to punish the Winthrop boys for winter-fishing the brook trout, you and Dr. Hazzard spent more than a decade poisoning and planting the old pond. That blow left a mark. I ask, however, that you consider the attributes of this fish.

Like our beloved brook trout, the smallmouth bass is native to the Great Lakes drainage. These fish have swum our rivers and lakes for nearly twenty thousand years. The troubles they have spawned are symptomatic of a predicament they did not create. Dr. Henshall warned us in 1889 that “As the red man disappears before the tread of the white man, the ‘living arrow’ of the mountain stream goes with him. The trout is essentially a creature of the pine forests. Its natural home is in waters shaded by pine, balsam, spruce and hemlock, where the cold mountain brooks retain their low temperature, and the air is redolent with balsamic fragrance; where the natural food of the trout is produced in the greatest abundance, and where its breeding grounds are undisturbed. But iron has entered its soul. As the buffalo disappears before the iron horse, the brook-trout vanishes before the axe of the lumberman.”

You have expressed great anxiety over the “ugly brutes fouling up and crowding out our vanishing trout waters,” and I share this concern. The trout population decreases; the bass population increases. But correlation is not causation, and the demographics of our waters is influenced more by our behavior than the fish’s. We cut the pines. We erected the dams. And I refer again to the testimony of Dr. Henshall on the voracity of the bass: “I must dissent from the statement sometimes made that the Black Bass is the bluefish of fresh waters. The Black Bass is voracious — so are all game fishes — but not more so than the brook-trout.”

Bass and trout coexist in many of our larger U.P. rivers. Early in the spring and late in the fall when the waters are cool, the bass brood while the trout hold happily in the riffles and rise enthusiastically in the pools. In the heat of summer, though, when the temperatures rise and the oxygen content falls, the trout move out and the bass move in. Same riffles. Same pools. Different fish. With all due respect, your honor, I love the environs where bass are found.

I do not prefer bass to trout. The brook trout is, and always will be, the prince of our peninsula. But when the waters warm in our big rivers, I am thankful for the fish that Dr. Henshall aptly described as “Inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.”

© 2011 Timothy Schulz

Categories: Fish Tales

1 Comment

Jerry Dennis · May 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I too confess to fondness for the smallmouth, for all the reasons you so eloquently express. And your photos celebrate their subtle beauty, as well. Excellent post, Tim.

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